Place Where You Live:

Old Reynoldsburg, Tennessee

The Tennessee River between Old Reynoldsburg and Chester Hollow

I live beside the U-shaped river that divides our state into three sections. This western leg runs from south to north—backward, some say, but really it just follows the path of inevitability by flowing toward lower elevation.

The river I see from my porch is a lot fatter than it was before 1944, when a man-made flood swallowed the land on either side. Kentucky Lake drowned hundreds of farms and towns, along with their way of life. In exchange, the TVA granted the people who moved to higher ground the gift of electricity.

Eighty years earlier, the same river witnessed the Battle of Johnsonville. The water swallowed up the burned corpses of Union barges and gunboats that still lie hidden there. In the moment, it seemed the Confederate cavalry had chalked up a big win. Predictably, though, the loss of a critical supply route really riled General Sherman, who retaliated by decimating Atlanta.

Two miles north and a quarter-century earlier, this land I call my front yard was occupied briefly by nearly 1,200 people on their journey west. It took three days for the Reynoldsburg ferry to carry them all across the river.

The town of Reynoldsburg was already dying when the People cried there. Once the county seat (and only one vote short of becoming the state capital), Reynoldsburg fell victim to changing boundaries. All its people and buildings—even the two-story brick courthouse that was the pride of the county—disappeared from the landscape as well as from maps and memory.

The town was built around the ferry that provided transportation across the river for travelers on the northern prong of the “Notchy,” the Natchez Trace.

Before there was a ferry, before Europeans walked here, the land by the river was prime hunting ground for the Chickasaw. Millennia before the Chickasaw arrived, the Mississippian and Woodland cultures built their lives and buried their dead in this place.

And before all of these, there was the river.